I consider the Chargers' AJ Smith to be one of the better talent evaluators in the NFL. He is willing to take a risk in the first round -- see DE Luis Castillo and CB Antonio Cromartie as examples -- but often gets immediate returns with his picks.
He isn't, however, the most difficult to predict.
The Chargers, like an increasing number of teams, have seemingly put aside the mantra of always taking the "best available player" to instead look to fill immediate needs in the first round.
Consider this past April. Smith needed a pass rusher, as the Chargers, mostly due to the injury to Shawne Merriman, dropped from 5th in the league in sacks in 2007 (42) to 31st a year later. Smith selected pass rush specialist Larry English out of Northern Illinois, converting the former defensive end to a rush linebacker.
With questionable depth at cornerback and safety a year earlier, rival scouts weren't surprised to see the Chargers select versatile defender Antoine Cason in the first round.
A year earlier, with a clear need for a receiver, Smith took LSU's Craig "Buster" Davis in the first round.
Though Davis hasn't panned out as expected, Smith's strategy has generally been very effective and a key component to the Chargers' ascension to the top of the AFC West.
The release of LaDainian Tomlinson opens up a huge hole at running back for the Chargers.
This team, of course, is clearly built around quarterback Philip Rivers and the passing game. Darren Sproles has the speed and elusiveness needed to star in this offense and the team has a suitable big back in Jacob Hester for the tough yardage. Still, a workhorse back -- to be used much like the Saints used Pierre Thomas -- is a definite need for this club.
Considering the talent likely to be available when the Chargers are on the clock at No. 28, don't be surprised at all when AJ Smith takes his pick between Fresno State's Ryan Mathews or Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer.
After all... they'd fill a need.